When Joan Manning-Hill dreamt up St. Mary's Episcopal Church's community garden three years ago, she envisioned a bountiful vegetable garden with community members kneeling side-by-side, pulling weeds while sharing their recipes and gardening tips.

The free community garden, which is located directly behind the Pleasantville church on West Bayview Avenue, is in its third season and is producing more than Manning-Hill could have imagined.

Offering an overview tour of the garden, Manning-Hill pointed out beds of okra, collard greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, string beans, squash, strawberries and endless amounts of herbs such as basil, sage, cilantro and chamomile.

But the second part of her mental image, the community involvement, has been a bit slower moving than she had anticipated.

"We get mostly the same small group of volunteers day in and day out, which is good, but we'd like more community involvement," Manning-Hill said. "I'd like to see more adults and kids working together, people getting to know each other rather than fearing each other. We want the kids to know that they're not just 'mean old people,' and we want to show the old people know they're not just 'bad old kids.' That was a main goal of starting this garden, to build relationships within our community."

The garden is funded by the Atlantic County Utilities Authority and AtlantiCare, and is run on a "tend and take" model, meaning community members are encouraged to stop the garden by anytime and take whatever they want, in exchange for weeding while they're there.

"It's just a matter of maintaining it now," Manning-Hill said. "Come pull weeds and pull a vegetable to take home."

Judy Morris, a member of St. Mary's Episcopal Church and a resident of Egg Harbor Township who regularly volunteers at the garden, said having a community garden is an all-around benefit.

"(A community garden) is an excellent idea," Morris said. "It gets people involved in their community, and it allows us to share God's bounty with one another. It's a beautiful space that draws people together. I'd love to see more people get involved."

Contact Elisa Lala:

609-463-6713

How to participate

Community members are welcome to "Tend and Take" anytime for free. The official meeting time is 10 a.m. every Saturday. The community garden is located directly behind St. Mary's Episcopal Church's at 118 W. Bayview Ave., Pleasantville, NJ.